Five years ago, bookseller Elizabeth Young was profiled in our "Bright Young Booksellers" series. What's she up to now? In December, she is opening a brick-and-mortar bookshop in Brooklyn dedicated to "cooking, cocktails, and culture." We asked her to tell us more about it.
You started your business, lizzyoung bookseller, in 2012 with a focus on the culinary arts books and ephemera, what led you to the rare books trade?
Cookbooks have always held a fascination for me. As most cookbook lovers will tell you, it is not necessarily the recipes that grab you and take you in, it is the place you go in your head while reading a cookbook. I guess you could call it something like virtual cooking. You don't really have to take a pot or pan out, you don't have to get your kitchen dirty, you can cook a remarkable meal for family and friends, in your head.
As a former pastry chef and food editor, I am passionate about the culinary arts, but recognize the realities of jumping back into a kitchen at this stage of life. As my two girls made their way in the world, I was looking for something to sink my teeth into that did not involve being elbow deep in chocolate. My father, Roy Young
, suggested I come work with him and get to know the rare book business. After spending a couple of years ensconced in the rare book trade, I realized there was a perfect niche for me in rare books focusing on cooking, cocktails, and culture.
What have been favorite items to pass through your hands?
Some of the most rewarding experiences I have had working with rare books is when I come across an unusual culinary manuscript. These handwritten notebooks and ledgers tell a personal story -- when you put together the scraps of paper and ephemera that are pasted, pinned, and stuck in between recipes and remedies, you find a personal narrative that gives you a glimpse into a kitchen from the past.
There was one in particular, a two-volume set of ledgers, that was written in both English and German that brought to life a Jewish immigrant's journey from Germany to New York through the medium of recipes and ephemera. Originating from 1910, with over 50 pieces of paper ephemera laid in, this handwritten recipe book revealed a great many hidden gems that were only evident with further exploration.
One item that was especially notable was a recipe written (in German) on the back of a letter, from The Reichsbund (National Union, or Assosciation) of Jewish Infantry asking "our unemployed comrades to forward their addresses to our secretary, comrade Eugen Sabel, Hannover, 12 Gretchen Street. Do it in writing only." The letter was signed by Sabel, December 3, 1934. With some research, I discovered that Eugen, his wife, and child were sent to Auschwitz and killed on February 5, 1943.
You're opening a store in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. What are you most excited about, and what made you decide to open a brick-and-mortar shop?
Yes, I am opening a "brick & mortar" shop in my own neighborhood here in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. I was originally inspired to do so by the owner of a similar bookstore in San Francisco, Omnivore Books
, which sells both new and rare culinary books. I learned from Celia that placing rare cookbooks and cocktail books next to new ones creates a whole new customer base. Most people who love food and cooking don't even know the rare book world exists.
Since food is a topic anyone can talk about, and let's face it, there seems to be a growing (from the early 1980s) fascination with food -- books about food and drink, the culture of food and how it is produced, as well as food memoirs -- this is just a fun business to be in. I realized, while working at book fairs, one of my favorite things to do is talk to people about the books they love and why they love them. I can still (and probably will do so in the dead of winter) sit quietly and catalogue books and ephemera, but why not open up a little shop and share these treasures with the public.
You have M. F. K. Fisher's archive for sale, what does it include and will that be available to see in the shop?
Years ago I discovered M. F. K. Fisher, the food writer/ranconteuse, and recognized the potential of food and drink in narration as just that, a portrait of a life in words, with food as the thread, holding the whole story together. When I had the opportunity to buy her personal library along with a good number of correspondence, I jumped on the opportunity.
encompasses thousands of annotated books, letters, and pieces of ephemera. The correspondence in this archive consist of letters and documents -- connecting the author with family members, friends, and agents. I will definitely have the M. F. K. Fisher catalogue on hand at the shop as well as the binders filled with her correspondence. The books on the other hand, number into the thousands, and are safe and secure in a storage facility.
What do you like most about being a book dealer?
As I mentioned before, my favorite part of being a bookseller is talking to customers about the books they love and why they love them, and of course trying to find those treasures for my customers. The other rewarding bit of bookselling is the fact that every day I learn something new. Cataloguing books and ephemera can be a bit tedious sometimes but then there are those other days where you get lost down the rabbit hole, while hours roll by and time and space take on a whole new dimension.
Image courtesy of Lizz Young